Hamsun-days in Hamarøy 4.-9. August 2009.

Inauguration of the Hamsun-centre in Hamarøy 4.August 2009.

"They chatted and chatted in their strange northern dialect, it contained many unusual words, unexpected words, it was almost art, but it expressed their opinions" (August).

Normally we should not even have been in Hamarøy this year: the festival Hamsun-days is only arranged every second year 2004, 2006, 2008... But this year we celebrate the most important jubilee so far: Knut Hamsun's 150. birthday and what could be more suitable than celebrating it with the Hamsun-days AND inauguration of the new Hamsun-centre in Hamarøy 4. August exactly on the day of Knut Hamsun's birth?

It really was the fantastic day, which we had all dreamt of: Beautiful weather, 6000 happy people in festive mood, royal participation and a cultural programme, that was only the appetizer for the rest of the week's sumptuous programme.

But let us report chronologically. Already the night before on 3. August at 11 pm we got an overture to the week, an overture that became one of my partner's best experiences of the whole week, the cabaret "Yes, what is Love? A cabaret on love as the theme in Knut Hamsun's works". The actress Anneke von der Lippe, the literary scientist Nils Magne Knutsen and Bjørn Klakegg on guitar read, recited poems, sang and told stories around Knut Hamsun and his works. It became a very poetic and emotional evening: warm, intimate and on a high artistic level! In addition the evening took place on historical grounds, namely in Knut Hamsun's old farm Skogheim.
Generally there were open doors for the members of the
Hamsun-Society several nights during the week, where one could relax, meet new and old Hamsun-friends, chat and discuss the events of the day. Really an excellent initiative of the Hamsun-Society, which we hope will be repeated during the next Hamsun-days in 2010.

Knut Hamsun's birthday, 4. August, started with laying of the wreath at the Hamsun-monument near the childhood home in Hamsund. After a warm welcome address by the manager of the Hamsun-centre Bodil Børset, Leif Hamsun read his father Tore Hamsun's speech from the 100. jubilee in Hamarøy 23.August 1959 and put down the wreath at the bust - a very emotional moment! The actress Henny Moan recited Hamsun-poems after which a fiddler led us all from the bust and over to the childhood home, where the celebrations continued with champagne for probably 800 people and birthday wishes and recitals.

Laying of the wreath at the monument in Hamsund - Towards the childhood home - Champagne at the childhood home

From Knut Hamsun's novels we all know the Nordlandsboat, a harmonic and excellent vessel - maybe the most beautiful boat-type since the Viking ship. As a tribute to Knut Hamsun on his 150. birthday a flotilla of Nordlandsboats arrived to the newly restored municipal quay in Presteid next to the Hamsun-centre. A beautiful and emotional view just here and with the quay and the banks of the fjord full with people. The convoy started in Bodø and raised much attention on it's several days sailing.

"A ship is a ship, but a boat this is nothing" (August in Wanderers).

The Nordlandsboats arrive in Hamarøy

Then at last the time came, which we had all been looking forward to for several years: The inauguration of the Hamsun-centre. Several thousands of people had been gathering in the course of the afternoon around the centre waiting for the main speaker of the day, HRH crown princess Mette Marit.

"Also August thrived, he was the innovator of Polden and it's efficacious spirit, he granted himself a triumph. Cash was plenty in Polden, the plots were worth thousands, workers and buyers profited well, taxation fell. The entire boom was August's merit. He had pushed a button and made something turn, now it was just to follow his lucid plan: to make Polden big. Yes Sir, said August, we must compete with the world or we will lose the game."

The inauguration became the both solemn and an humorous event we had hoped for. The programme was linked together and commentated by August and Pauline (played by Per Kjerstad and Marianne Meløy), who both of them had their remarks on the day and on the building.

Sørsami theatre seduces August - Pauline cautions from the balcony

Rolf Steffensen, Hamarøy's popular mayor, bid a heartfelt welcome to Hamarøy and remembered the long road from the unveiling of the first Hamsun-monument just here in Hamarøy in 1961, over the first Hamsun-days in 1982 up to the opening of the Hamsun-centre today. Another important theme of his speech was reconciliation, a topic that Hamarøy has worked proactively on for a long time - both seen in the relation Hamsun/Norway as well as in other conflicts in Norway and abroad.

HRH crown princess Mette Marit then inaugurated the Hamsun-centre with a very fine speech on the theme "restlessness" both seen in the duplicity in Hamsun's travels and his longing for his home in Nordland and more generally in today's discord between everyday bustle and longing for the rest of mind..

The hand-over of the building' keys was really done with a twinkle in the eyes by county mayor Odd Eriksen (assisted by August), the keys were given to councillor for culture and environment Marit Tennfjord, who passed them on to manager of Salten museum Harry Ellingsen, who finally gave the keys - and the work - to Bodil Børset, manager of the Hamsun-centre. Everybody with witty but serious words on the work, that now has to fill the Centre.

Norway's minister for culture, Trond Giske, then opened this years Hamsun-days with an excellent speech on our duty to preserve and pass-on the heritage of Knut Hamsun's work and some fine statements on the Centre like "good architecture must be provocative", "the building is square and hair-raising like Knut Hamsun himself" and "the millions of Norwegian Kroner have been placed in the building for future generations and can never be moved to Switzerland", a fine innuendo to the funds that are deprived society through moving to tax havens. A very wise, engaging and humorous speech!

Hamarøy's mayor Rolf Steffensen - HRH crown princess Mette Marit - minister for culture Trond Giske

Between the official speeches we had appetizers from the concerts and theatre performances, that were to come in the course of the week, here was song, dance, Hamsun texts in Russian, puppet theatre, poems, music...

After the inauguration ceremony the Hamsun-centre was opened for guided tours, there was first show of Knut Erik Jensen's Hamsun-film "Dreamt and experienced", which is to be shown later this autumn in Norwegian Television AND there was a party for everybody on the grounds around the centre with the two folk- and rockbands Publiners and DDE.

In short: It was a fantastic day, which we will never forget - finally, after so many years of hard struggle from innumerable dedicated people, finally here is the Hamsun-centre, waiting to be filled with life. This is certainly the proof, what can be achieved when people work in solidarity towards a common goal!

DDE and Publiners before 6000 enthusiastic fans

As we are used to during the Hamsun-days, the cultural events offered were overwhelming and we will report only from a few selected events - otherwise you will give up reading :-)

One of our absolute highlights was the staging of "Hunger" in the lecture theatre in the Hamsun-centre. An absolutely black, spooky, sinister and morbidly fascinating puppet theatre, where the two puppeteers are clearly present on the stage, but where you still only see the puppets. I never expected to see Hunger as theatre, but the light design, sound and above all the choreography and the extremely precise movements by the puppeteers brought over hunger/Hunger in an almost physical way. Excellent!
The staging was a collaboration between Pickled Image, TinkerTing and Figurteatret i Nordland. This performance MUST be shown, also abroad! Do see the play if you get the possibility!

Figurteatret i Nordland: Hunger. (left from the evening's performance, middle and right from the opening)

The Hamsun-days have always put much emphasis on meetings between poets/authors and the audience, so this year also. The café in the Hamsun-centre was an ideal spot for a close and intimate meeting with Herbjørg Wassmo, her readers love her, especially here in Hamarøy, and she told from and about her new book on 4 generations of women.
Morten A. Strøksnes was interviewed by Arne O. Holm on Hamsun and America. This meeting we unfortunately missed, but everybody we spoke to reported about an EXTREMELY exiting and interesting meeting!

A cornerstone in the Hamsun-days has always been the literary seminar, where new or deepening view-points on Hamsun's works are presented, often by Norwegian or foreign university professors. This year the theme was "Restlessness - Knut Hamsun and the restless human being". Here is the exiting programme:

Bodil Børset bid welcome, it was a special sentiment to be in the new Hamsun-centre together with other expectant participants for this premiere.

The first lecture was held by the Hamsun-centre's own capable Ronald Altinus on "Polden as the global wanderers meeting place". Every time one listen to Ronald, one becomes a little bit wiser on Hamsun, Ronald is an excellent scientist and intermediary.

Even Arntsen from the University of Tromsø and chairman of the Hamsun-Society held an inspiring lecture on "Inside but outside. The Wanderer in Hamsuns works".

What could be more obvious, than using the ruins of the old vicarage next-door for the next event? An event for everybody,not just the literary seminar participants. A beautiful experience just on this spot with the sun twinkling through the leaves of the trees to listen to Ola B. Johannesen reciting from Hamsun's last novel "On overgrown Paths". It was as if Hamsun's own voice came to us here in this place where he had spent a part of his childhood - a very emotional experience.

We changed the venue to the church for lunch and the rest of the lectures as the centre was used for other purposes.
Ellen Mortensen from the University of Bergen took us on an interesting hike in "August's longing towards the abyss: Nature as tragically force in Hamsun's Wanderers-trilogy".

Then we switched to Swedish language. Arne Melberg from the University of Oslo took us on a travel to the orient: "Knut Hamsun's In Wonderland and other fantasies about the orient".

And the last lecture of the day was given by Steinar Gimnes NTNU. He spoke lively and interesting about "A fluke of imperfection: Hamsun - a linguistic seducer?"

The new lecture theatre was conquered again next morning by expectant listeners. First lecturer was Finn Skårderud with the theme "Restlessness". This lecture was a roaring success, we were taken into restlessness not only in the Hamsunian world but also in our own. A very wise and pensive lecture.

And the restlessness continued. Per Thomas Andersen from the University of Oslo spoke lively and precise on "Restlessness and Utopia at Hamsun".

Britt Andersen from NTNU spoke as always very vividly and interesting, this time on the theme "Nation, gender, bio-politics".

Lars Frode Larsen held an extremely wise and thoughtful talk on "Hamsun's literary and political metamorphosis". When you have heard Lars Frode you never question the evolution throughout Hamsun's long life.

We had all been very curious about the point in the agenda: "Secret mail. Sensation!" and we had all been guessing wildly.

The lectures were really exiting, but "Secret mail" was a sensation: The lights are dimmed, the curtain is drawn, a blue spotlight lights an old-fashioned gramophone. The record is started and we hear Knut Hamsun's voice reciting the poem to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's 70. birthday. Everybody were deeply moved and the explanation was this: The recording has never been published, but a specimen was cut. This specimen turned up in the estate of a deceased and Nordlandsbanken succeeded in acquiring the record and donated it to the Hamsun-centre on it's inauguration. A world premiere 77 years after the recording!

When the excitement after Hamsun's voice had calmed, we then had an interesting lecture by Zarina Martinez-Børresen from the University of Oslo / Ran on "Hamsun - Rulfo, return ticket".

Elisabeth Oxfeldt, University of Oslo spoke in Danish about "Hamsun and the travel to the Orient - Humanism, genre and civilization criticism", the very last lecture. Afterwards an excursion to Hansbakk and a meeting with the author Åsne Seierstad was arranged, I did not partake myself, but heard that it was a very fine trip. Many thanks for a very successful literary seminar, which encouraged us to experience all the different sides of Hamsun.

When it comes to music the week was - as usual - filled with concerts. It started already the day before the Hamsun days with a beneficial concert for the endowment of a piano to for the Hamsun-centre, with local actors, completely sold-out and a round sum for the piano. Later we had concert with Mari Boine unplugged, a new composed work for soprano and piano to Hamsun's texts, first performance of the piece"On overgrown Paths" i cooperation between MiNensemblet and Nordland theatre, we listened to ballads by Hamsun and one more first performance of music by Jan Gunnar Hoff to Hamsun's texts. It is remarkable, that there are ALWAYS world first performances during the Hamsun-days. This small municipality far north of the arctic circle is really open-minded and attentive to modern, contemporary classical music! Admirable!

Then we had Norwegian Radio and Television's Studio Socrates and music by Oofotr, we had rock-concert open-air at the Tranøy lighthouse, we had CD-release of "Forståelsen" with Otto Henning Kjelstrup to Hamsun's texts AND we had popular festivities both after the inauguration of the Hamsun-centre and at the closing of the Hamsun-days. I am sure I have forgotten something - I really apologise - but so much is going on during this one week!

All the private art galleries had fine exhibitions - as always - and there were exhibitions in Hamsun's farm Skogheim and in the village hall at the childhood home. My travel companion's favourite was an enormous wooden sculpture of Knut Hamsun at the village hall and a mini-version at the old school-house - humorous and perfect: this IS Knut Hamsun!

Ketil Nergaard: A monument for Knut Hamsun? Sculpture installation.

A severe breach of tradition and a large void was, that the were no theatre performances with the Hamarøy thespians. Local amateurs, yes, but these thespians belong to the Hamsun-days. It is always a pleasure to see their joy, enthusiasm, humour and inventive-ness, when they adapt a Hamsun novel for the theatre. But they have practically promised to be present at next year's Hamsun-days again. We are already looking forward to this!

But theatre we got, fortunately: Beautiful Sørsamisk theatre performing at the inauguration and fabulous Nordland puppet-theatre, the well-received theatre-in-the-barn performance of "Growth of the Soil" starring Juni Dahr and Gard B. Eidsvold at Kråkmo farm, historical grounds,where Hamsun wrote major parts of the novel. This last piece I did not manage to see, but everybody were exited over the performance.

Finally a deep-drawn sigh over the performance of Hamsun's defence at the trial, being shouted out from the roof of the lecture theatre by 4 actors. Well well...

This sigh , however, does not change our opinion on these marvellous days. These days showed the generosity and open-mindedness of Northern Norway: These beautiful experiences we only got - like every year - because the entire population in the municipality of Hamarøy support this project called the Hamsun-days and they work like mad before and under the days (and afterwards tidying up also), voluntarily off course! This effort is really unique - we have never seen the like of it!

Even this year, where it was impossible to predict how many visitors would show up, all went off like always: warm and hearty and at the same time with the competence acquired through many years of Hamsun-days. The inhabitants of Hamarøy moved out of their houses to accommodate us visitors, they acted as guards at the exhibitions and they swotted after normal work to tidy up and prepare for the next events. Even in the Hamsun-centre they drilled and hammered the last night before the inauguration. If any municipality's inhabitants deserve a price for volunteer work, then the townsmen of Hamarøy!

Many many thanks for this years experiences. We will meet again in Hamarøy next year - at the opening of the exhibition in the Hamsun-centre in June and at the "normal" Hamsun-days in August as well. We are looking forward already!

Please read the entire programme for the inauguration of the Hamsun-centre and for the Hamsun-days at The National Library or at The Hamsun-days.

See also our photos from 4. August here: Photos.

© Kirsten Hedvig Rasmussen www.hamsun.at